Small cuts to save costs could hurt a brand — Richard Hartung
AUG 3 — Flying on Singapore Airlines used to mean the secret flavour of Kris Chili Sauce. No more. Now it’s Tropicana chilli sauce, surely a good brand yet, perhaps, just a little cheaper and easier.
And it’s not just the chili sauce, nor is it just Singapore Airlines. More companies here seem to be cutting back on products or services that were part of what differentiated their brand. These aren’t just the small firms trying to compete on cost. Instead, they are the iconic airlines, hotels and other well-known names that make Singapore stand out.
Another icon, the Raffles Hotel, diluted its image and its product by serving high-priced, lower-quality Singapore Slings. It received flak for pouring pre-made Slings, said to taste more like sweet fruit cocktails than a classic Sling, from large metal containers.
Large firms offering everyday services are making those shifts too. At Singapore Post, customers used to know that they would receive mail six days a week and get a discount when sending greeting cards during the year-end festive season. Now, those services have disappeared.
SingPost quietly eliminated the special rate for sending cards last year and simply replied to an enquiry by saying “we regret there is no special posting rate this year”. In May, mail delivery on Saturdays disappeared. This is the same company where postal clerks now sell everything from mobile phones to dust busters, with displays and signs that could compete at any pasar malam.
SingTel has cut back too, for example on payphones in public places. While most people do use mobile phones, good luck finding an alternative if your phone dies or you are a tourist without a mobile. While the cutbacks probably saved money, part of what made SingPost and SingTel important to the community simply slipped away.
It’s easy to say that little things like Singapore Slings and Kris Chili Sauce don’t matter much as long as sarong kebaya-clad hostesses and the hotel doorman are still there. It’s easy, too, to say that services like mail delivery on Saturday and payphones in malls are no longer needed in an era of digital communications. Yet the impact of a cumulative series of small cutbacks may be greater than the amount saved.
Customers do remember what’s gone: As they see the little things taken away, buzz can grow about whether the differentiators that make the company great still exist. At some point, the cutbacks could lead them to move to competitors.
Snipping away bits of the fabric of society could weaken social cohesion as well. Amid debate over changes wrought by the casinos, immigration and redevelopment, there have been questions about what really makes Singapore Singaporean.
With the constant tearing down of old buildings and familiar sites, there’s little enough that remains of what generations here grew up with. Keeping even the little touches — familiar things like payphones or the original Singapore Sling that many here grew up with — helps emphasise that differentiation between this and any other city in the world.
It’s the cumulative effect of tiny changes so small we hardly notice them that add up to fundamentally larger shifts that could be detrimental. And it’s an argument for why companies should spend just a little more for the broader benefit of themselves and the community. — Today
* The writer is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or the publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.